Hurricane Irma made landfall across several islands in the Caribbean including Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and others before heading to Florida. It was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, a category 5, with winds of 185 mph. Caribbean islands were, and still are, largely unprepared for storms of these intensities. Weeks after, supplies are still being sent to affected islands, as their governments provide much-needed aid to their citizens.
If this hurricane and others like it, weren’t going to make landfall to US mainland, would media have cared to cover it? I doubt it very much.
Once Hurricane Irma had made landfall over Caribbean islands, and its path was now Florida, most media outlets shifted attention to tracking the storm, despite it being days away from making landfall. Islands where it had wreaked havoc, updates were only a few minutes long, despite their dire situation. Many were left without shelter, and needed supplies urgently.
Within the space of weeks, the Caribbean had been struck by three hurricanes: Irma, Jose and Maria, with Irma and Maria being the most destructive, both measuring category 5. Maria had upgraded to a category 5 from a category 1 within 1 day.
Missing from initial discussions about these hurricanes, was Climate Change, despite it being a contributing factor. With increasing ocean temperatures, the warm air mixing with upper-level winds results in tropical depressions which later become storms or hurricanes. Whether people are still in denial about the anthropogenic effects on the environment, the fact still remains, that oceans are getting warmer each year. In September there were five hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico within the space of two weeks. Some islands which were unaffected by hurricanes in decades were hit by two, leaving them uninhabitable.
Small islands such as Barbuda and Dominica have had most of their infrastructure destroyed, with supplies such as food, water, medicine, and building materials being shipped in from neighboring islands. Other islands making up the BVI and USVI, as well as Puerto Rico, can rely on the British and federal governments for assistance, despite their being delays receiving it.
For small, independent island states natural disasters such as these can ruin their economies. They’d need to provide their own funds or seek it through international organizations in order to rebuild, which can be a lengthy process. It will take months, even years to rebuild and rebuild stronger at that.
The main source of revenue for many Caribbean islands is tourism; turquoise waters, sun, and sand, a piece of paradise. But, when that paradise is destroyed, what’s the fate of local economies? With a lack of other natural resources, what becomes of them when their tourism product is in ruins? What other options do they have?
The Caribbean is vulnerable to climate change, despite not being a major contributor to climate change. Added to that the region isn’t considered a major stakeholder in Climate Change discussions, with conversations centering around larger stakeholders and Climate Change drivers.
This hurricane season is one for the record books for the Caribbean and unquestionably brings the region to the center of discussions about natural disaster readiness because of Climate Change.